Harm / by Karie Luidens

Woodstock debris.jpg

Is hypocrisy inevitably harmful? Well, let’s look at what became of the “hippie invasion” of northern New Mexico fifty years ago. Most of the rebellious outsiders who rode the wave into the region looking for a new (old) way to live... ultimately swept back out again within a decade. And in their wake they left a swath of detritus both physical and figurative.

Many hippies eventually gave up trying to live off the land and left. Some were able to sell at a profit properties cheaply purchased from locals, who then watched the prices escalate exponentially with every subsequent turnover. Some went into business and reverted to a middle-class lifestyle mildly inflected with New Age values. Ultimately bohemia was absorbed into hippiedom, which, like every other sector, is discernibly stratified by class. Even today hippies remain a prominent part of Taos’s social landscape. Taos gradually gentrified and attracted new waves of postmodern hippies, affluent amenity migrants, and retirees.

By 1980, most of the communes were gone and the Plaza was a theme mall for tourists. Its old social, commercial, and political functions were now scattered in new constructions along the highway south of town. Real estate prices for old adobes on land with irrigation rights skyrocketed. For every native who emigrated for work or school, two more affluent and educated newcomers arrived. [...] Resentment simmered. In another decade marijuana was still popular but driven increasingly underground. Hallucinogens became hard to find and were slowly replaced by cocaine, heroin, crack, methamphetamine, and prescription drugs. Alcohol consumption remained ever popular, constrained only by an open-container rule on the Plaza. (Sylvia Rodríguez, “Countercultural Taos: A Memoir,” Voices of Counterculture in the Southwest p 114)

The ultimate irony: many if not most of the hippies of the sixties who had hoped to find a pristine place to create a more sustainable lifestyle than consumerism... ended up consuming the region’s resources and then leaving their communes and in-town communities to collapse, unsustained. In a way they perpetuated the very harm they had originally sought to escape or avoid.